Beware exploding vehicle struts


When a vehicle is involved in fire, first responders face a variety of hazards: fuel, oils, hydraulic fluids, combustible metals, compressed flammable gases, toxic byproducts from burning plastics as well as any unknown cargo. Compressed gas struts where the gas and fluid inside the strut becomes overheated during a vehicle fire can result in an explosion of the strut assembly, launching a projectile that can cause serious injury to first responders.

Following are actions firefighters should take to reduce exposure to these hazards:

  • Perform a quick risk analysis prior to attacking a vehicle fire.
  • Don full turnouts and SCBAs.
  • Approach upwind and uphill when possible.
  • Try to begin extinguishment from a distance to reduce the heat before you approach and access the vehicle. There is no way to tell which direction one of these struts may fly, but it is best to avoid standing directly in front of the vehicle. A 45-degree approach may offer greater protection.
  • Take the time to examine the vehicle and try to eliminate hazards prior to conducting live-fire training in vehicles.
When a vehicle is fully involved (total loss) and there are no lives to save, we can afford to take a more cautious approach. (Photo/NPS)
When a vehicle is fully involved (total loss) and there are no lives to save, we can afford to take a more cautious approach. (Photo/NPS)

Training tip: Examine the cars and trucks in your station’s parking lot. Look for all the places struts or other hazardous components are used. Discuss these with your crews and identify the most obvious directions an exploding strut could fly when overheated.

Check out “Exploding vehicle struts: A hidden hazard” to read Near-Miss reports involving exploding vehicle struts.

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